Oedipus the King: Fate vs. Free Will Essay examples
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Sophocles’ Oedipus the King: Fate vs. Free Will
In Oedipus the King, one of Sophocles’ most popular plays, Sophocles clearly depicts the Greek’s popular belief that fate will control a man’s life despite of man’s free will. Man was free to choose and was ultimately held responsible for his own actions. Throughout Oedipus the King, the concept of fate and free will plays an integral part in Oedipus' destruction.
Destined to marry his mother and murder his father, Oedipus was partly guided by fate. This prophecy, as warned by the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, was absolute and would inevitably come to pass. As for free will, Oedipus’ actions, temper, impulsive nature and pride (hubris) as well as his erroneous judgment (hamartia) all…show more content…
Not knowing he was the murderer, Oedipus had now cursed himself. "Whoever he is, a lone man unknown in his crime or one among many, let that man drag out his life in agony, step by painful step – I curse myself as well… if by any chance he proves to be an intimate of our house, here at my hearth, with my full knowledge, may the curse I just called down on him strike me!" (606)
Oedipus journey in search of Laius’ murderer has merely helped the prophecy become reality. His ignorance, pride and remorseless quest for the truth ultimately contributed to his destruction. An explicit example can be seen when Oedipus was told (after threatening Tiresias), that he was responsible for Laius’ murder. Oedipus became enraged and called the blind prophet a liar. Oedipus thought he could overcome the gods, but in fact, his every action moved him closer to his destiny.
Upon unearthing of the truth of his birth from the shepherd, Oedipus cries out, “O god all come true, all burst to light! O light now let me look my last on you! I stand revealed at last cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage, cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands”. (631). Oedipus now knew that his fate had indeed come to pass, and feels cursed by it. Due to the crimes he committed, Oedipus punishes himself (free will) by stabbing his eyes with one of Jocasta’s brooches.
Overall, Oedipus achieves his foremost sin when he attempts to
The ancient Greeks believed that their gods could see the future, and that certain people could access this information. Prophets or seers, like blind Tiresias, saw visions of things to come. Oracles, priests who resided at the temples of gods—such as the oracle to Apollo at Delphi—were also believed to be able to interpret the gods' visions and give prophecies to people who sought to know the future. During the fifth century B.C.E., however, when Sophocles was writing his plays, intellectuals within Athenian society had begun to question the legitimacy of the oracles and of the traditional gods. Some of this tension is plain to see in Oedipus Rex, which hinges on two prophecies. The first is the prophecy received by King Laius of Thebes that he would have a son by Queen Jocasta who would grow up to kill his own father. The second is the prophecy that Oedipus received that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus all work to prevent the prophecies from coming to pass, but their efforts to thwart the prophecies are what actually bring the prophecies to completion.
This raises a question at the heart of the play: does Oedipus have any choice in the matter? He ends up killing his father and marrying his mother without knowing it—in fact, when he is trying to avoid doing these very things. Does he have free will—the ability to choose his own path—or is everything in life predetermined? Jocasta argues that the oracles are a sham because she thinks the prediction that her son would kill her husband never came to pass. When she finds out otherwise, she kills herself. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus has fulfilled his terrible prophecy long ago, but without knowing it. He has already fallen into his fate. One could argue that he does have free will, however, in his decision to pursue the facts about his past, despite many suggestions that he let it go. In this argument, Oedipus's destruction comes not from his deeds themselves but from his persistent efforts to learn the truth, through which he reveals the true nature of those terrible deeds. Oedipus himself makes a different argument at the end of the play, when he says that his terrible deeds were fated, but that it was he alone who chose to blind himself. Here, Oedipus is arguing that while it is impossible to avoid one's fate, how you respond to your fate is a matter of free will.